Saturday, July 31, 2010

dirty space news goes global

about a month ago i got an email titled "space porn" which i have to admit, isnt so unusual these days as people like to point me towards pictures of things that resemble sexual organs. if this makes no sense, please read the related post: dirty space news.

what was notable about this particular space porn email was that it was from phil plait, the bad astronomer, asking if he could use the idea and some of the images for his upcoming w00tstock talk. well, of course i said yes and now we are all able to see his talk from last week.

UPDATE: i changed the video to a better quality version. thanks phil!

Friday, July 30, 2010

einstein: scientist and musician

the astronomist reminded me of a very interesting intersection between music and science: albert einstein was an avid violinist!

soon after i arrived in nottingham, i noticed a lecture advertised called "einstein's universe" that was to take place not at the university, but at the albert hall in town:

the presenters, oxford physicist brian foster and musician jack liebeck, would highlight "Einstein's science and his love of the violin." i was instantly intrigued and not disappointed one bit by the lecture and the performances! liebeck played beautifully at different points throughout the lecture and then they played a couple duets, with foster performing the parts that einstein often played with his musician friends.

here's a small video with interviews from both performers to give you an idea behind the lecture's inspiration.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

four finches - species are not immutable

i've seen many tattoo variations of darwin's four finches at the science tattoo emporium, but this one is definitely my favorite. it's subtle and artistic, beautiful and full of meaning!

while probably not the biggest influence, the finches that charles darwin found on the galapagos islands played an important role in helping him recognize the reality of the evolutionary process... that “species are not immutable.” the finches he found on different islands shared similar size, coloration, and habits, but the sizes and shapes of their beaks were so different that he originally thought they were all completely different types of birds. turns out the beaks are highly adapted to the different food sources eaten by birds in different locations.

the term Darwin's Finches was popularized in 1947 by David Lack in his book called Darwin's Finches and was first applied by Percy Lowe in 1936.

back to tattoos though, while i whole-heartedly agree with what david mitchell says in his column this week in the guardian, i still like my tattoo ;)

jane austen's fight club

well played, ladies!

found by enchiladaplate (mmmm... enchiladas)

camels at sunset

incredible photograph by symoto at flickr.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

crisis of capitalism

i found this animated video of a lecture by sociologist David Harvey to be quite interesting.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

the universe according to now

i'm showing you this solar eclipse photo by abhaykohok on flickr because i think its cool, and now that you know it has been done, you wont try it at home!! (potentially dangerous).

this photo one of the entries in this month's collection of photos called "the universe according to now" for the Royal Observatory's Astronomy Photographer of the Year project.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

drinking coffee in space

interesting method, but that looks like possibly the weakest coffee ever.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Super Scientist

i'm pleased to announce that after the unexpected shock of being flung into the job market a few months ago, i have accepted a "super science fellowship" to work with the folks at the australian astronomical observatory near sydney, australia! woo hoo! (i'd say "yeehaw" but i dont think thats the proper phrase to use!)

primarily, i will be using data from the extensive multi-wavelength GAMA survey to look at the star formation history of the universe and to see how star formation in galaxies behaves as a function of stellar mass, morphology, and environment, as well as continuing some ongoing projects that i find interesting.

i'll be moving down under around november this year and fully welcome any tips about moving to australia or suggestions about cool neighborhoods to live in around sydney. i'm not really looking forward to another round of moving across the world and dealing with visa issues, etc... but i am certainly looking forward to exploring a new continent and mashing up my english accent even more than it already is!

someone suggested that australia is a mix of english and texan culture, which is an intriguing statement. i hope it combines the outdoorsy adventurousness and tasty beverage aspects, and not the conservative, judgmental, moaning-about-the-weather parts.

i feel like with the fantastic title of super scientist, i should be entitled to wear some sort of super hero outfit, but apparently capes are not advised ;(

Sunday, July 18, 2010

elusive lightning

it takes patience, or a lot of repeated images as in when taking a timelapse, to capture great photos of elusive lightning. here are some beautiful examples i've seen recently:

by carolune: lightning over leiden.

by nilomr: southwest US

Saturday, July 17, 2010


any suggestions?

interestingly, i saw this on a blog called this isn't happiness.

how to open wine without a corkscrew

what do you do with a nice bottle of wine when no corkscrew is around? apparently, you open in it with a shoe!

i havent attempted this trick yet, because i'm a bit scared, but i've been assured that it works! maybe i'll try it with a white wine....

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

i will survive

during a trip to europe, a family visits several concentration camps and memorials and dances to gloria gaynor's "i will survive" at each of them. the participating family members are a holocaust survivor, his daughter, and his grandchildren. three generations of one family acknowledging the reality of the past in their own personal and goofy way.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

big bang big boom

i've shared work by blu blu before because i think its great! i like the way this new ~10 minute installment uses props and sound effects and works with the theme of evolution.

BIG BANG BIG BOOM - the new wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

how is saturn like an octopus?

NASA's cassini website shows saturn all decked out in world cup garb!

so... does saturn predict holland or spain to win? if you havent read about the "sucker for soccer" octpus who seemingly predicts the winner of late-stage WC matches, thats perfectly alright. it just means the title of this post makes no sense.

either way, a team from a country who has never won a world championship will be the new world cup winners, and i think thats great!!

although, i will be suffering some serious soccer withdrawal over the upcoming weeks :(

Friday, July 9, 2010

saturn's hexagon

here's a funny saturday morning breakfast cereal (SMBC) cartoon.

indeed ;)

the hexagonal patterns around saturn's north pole were discovered by the voyager spacecraft flybys in the 1980s and quickly became mysterious phenomena. images taken by the cassini spacecraft since 2006 have shown how long-lived the hexagonal patterns in the clouds are, further extending the mystery. this image from cassini shows the thermal infrared glow (at 5 microns) of saturn's north pole:

circles and a definite hexagon! strange.

since astronomical objects are so far away in space, it is rare that laboratory experiments on earth can test theories about the inexplicably strange aspects of the solar system we observe with our telescopes and spacecraft, because we can rarely recreate the conditions that exist elsewhere in the universe (temperature, size, density, etc...).

but, a recent study by physicists Ana Claudia Barbosa Aguiar and Peter Read of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, has produced hexagonal patterns similar to those observed around saturn's north pole by releasing dye into a 30-liter cylinder tank of water spinning on a table. inside the tank of water, they place a small ring that whirls more rapidly than the cylinder and produces a jet stream.

the video below shows their experiment (behold, actual science on youtube!!!):

the study deduces that the speed of the spin of the inner ring relative to the cylinder determines the number of sides of the polygon formed. the larger the difference between the speed of the inner ring and the cylinder, the fewer sides the polygon had; they can produce triangles, squares, or "anything you like."


total solar eclipse: july 11, 2010

this sunday is certainly a big day in world events. not only will much of the globe enjoy the world cup final between holland and spain, but many people will be lucky enough to witness a total solar eclipse as well!

the phase of totality, when the moon passes in front of the sun and completely blocks its light, occurs over easter island, chile starting at 20:10 UT, which is 19:10 in england and 4:10 pm eastern time in the US.

i wish i could witness this year's eclipse in person, but i cannot :( but, we are all lucky enough to be able to watch a live video of the whole event, courtesy of the shelios eclipse expedition, which headed south from spain this week for the event!

WATCH the eclipse LIVE here:

i admit that i understand why people travel around the world to view total solar eclipses, as i'm still glowing from last years event in china:

you can see more of our total solar eclipse 2009 adventures here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Monday, July 5, 2010

rocket to nowhere

a photo by kevin cooley, which he describes below:

"This image was created before dawn on a cold, snowy morning near the small town of Lyman in Southwestern Wyoming. To create the streak in the sky, I used an old military flare. After a long period of failed experimentation with model rockets, fireworks, and marine flares, I settled on military flares for two reasons. They are very bright and enjoy a nice long hang-time in the air of around 8-10 seconds. Second, I really liked their predictable trajectories, something which I wasn’t getting with the other methods I tested. The flares are all from various militaries in Eastern Europe and date from the late 1970’s and 80’s. I was surprised to find hardly any duds in the entire gross I used for this project."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

planets in the sky on july 4th

happy independence day to all folks from the US!! as the sun sets on your BBQs and you get ready for the fireworks to begin, take a moment to glance up in the sky at the natural firestorms glowing in other parts of our galaxy!

the planet venus is the very bright object visible in the west, which will set over the horizon as the sun says its goodbyes. if you follow up and to the left of venus, you'll spot the star regulus, mars, and saturn. this is roughly what the planet-heavy western sky will look like at 9:30 pm tonight from most of the US.

below shows a sky map for july 10, 2010 (from, as venus creeps closer to regulus in the sky. the two will reach a conjunction on july 10th, appearing extremely close in the sky for one night only!

for more info on any of these astronomical objects, i recommend you check out the site lookUP which provides interesting images of astronomical objects at different wavelengths, links to recent astronomy blog posts about them, finder charts, and much more. lookUP represents one of the many useful tools for the astronomically inclined recently developed by stuart at the astronomy blog.

happy hot dogging and planet hunting!

Friday, July 2, 2010

the world cup from england

as you've been able to tell, i've been anticipating the world cup for a long while, and have been especially excited to experience all the matches in a country whose population, in general, takes the tournament much more seriously than people from my home nation, the US.

when i moved to england i joined an informal five-a-side match organized by fellow astronomers and their friends. i felt silly telling people i played "soccer" but when i told british friends i played "football" once a week, some people looked confused and actually asked if i wore shoulder pads!?

here are a few other phrases i've picked up over the last two years that have been especially useful for avoiding getting laughed at by the brits during the world cup (which happens anyway, i should add):

it's called a "draw" here, not a "tie."

the score is "nil-nil" not "zero-zero."

it's a "match," not a "game."

they usually call a "coach" and "manager."

your uniform, shin guards, shoes and all are called your "kit." in fact "shoes" are really "boots" and "shin guards" are called something else that i cant remember right now because i'm the only one who ever wears them when we play!

the sport is played on a "pitch," not a "field."

the "skipper" is the captain.

when time is up and there is a draw, the teams have to play "extra time" not "over time."

if you have the lower score at the end of the match you have been "defeated." you didnt "lose."

the sweet yummy things cutely decorated below are called "fairy cakes," not "cup cakes."

the media build up to the world cup here was intense. they constantly gave us messages of impending glory for the english boys. they told us that the national team had a solid chance to bring home the world cup trophy. now, i'm all for team spirit and a country supporting their players, but i was a bit surprised to hear such lofty build up, when my own predictions didnt have england going past the quarter finals (not that i'm any authority, mind). yes, the england squad was made up of quality players, but wasnt this a bit too much pressure to put on them before they even stepped onto the south african pitch?

but from what i have witnessed over the last several weeks, i think it was fitting for the english to build up their team with such ridiculously high expectations because it allowed them to enjoy their national past time: moaning.

i dont say this to be mean, i genuinely think people (must) enjoy it. it all started with moaning about how badly the national team played when they "couldnt even beat the US." i heard echoes of the ever-popular refrain: "typical." now i admit that the US got away with a trick by pulling out a point from the match, but neither team looked impressive enough to come away with 3 points (in my opinion).

i watched england's second match at a pub and was completely shocked by the abusive phrases the (admittedly drunken) lads yelled at the TV as it became less and less likely that england would score a winning goal against algeria. and then the fans that made the trip all the way to south africa to support their national team stood up and booed the players off the field. really? give them no credit what-so-ever for actually getting a point from the match - they didnt lose!!? nope. abusive insults and boo-ing.

after the USA's final match, a friend commented that he was very surprised by my calmness after our loss. well, we didnt play well or score goals. you cant win a match if you dont score goals. but i guess no matter what reaction i had it would have seem subdued compared to the disgust shown by typical english football fan after a loss. thats not entirely true though, because after their loss to germany, the city of nottingham was amazingly quiet.

any way you look at it, the premier league players make such stupid amounts of money each year to play the sport that maybe they should be able to handle a little pressure from their country folk.

regardless, i'm excited to see the rest of the world cup matches after a brief couple days of football withdrawal! the south american teams are looking strong, but i'm still hoping that the trophy will be won by a national that has never won before.

and dont forget, thre is a total solar eclipse on the same day as the world cup final, july 11, which will happen shortly before kickoff! you'll be able to watch the eclipse live on line this year! stay tuned....